I’m Ready for This Shades of Cosplay Documentary to Make Me Feel Things as a Black Cosplayer
"People started commenting on the color of my skin..."
In 2015, filmmaker Cheyenne Ewulu released a Black cosplay documentary called Shades of Cosplay. The documentary took a look at the lives of four Black cosplayers and how they navigated through the cosplay scene, addressing issues of racism and the lack of inclusivity in certain spaces. The film premiered at Magfest’s “Games on Film” event in 2016 and hasn’t been seen ever since.
Shades of Cosplay gathers four Black cosplayers to talk about their experiences with racism within the cosplay space and the changes that they hope to see in the future. Interviewees include: Kira (Firaga Fox Cosplay), Chaka Cumberbatch (creator of #28DaysOfBlackCosplay), Camille Duale, and Kyle Mason.
The trailer is a mix of footage where Black cosplayers are showing off their cosplay and the terrible realization that they all have experience with folks who take issue with them pretending to be cartoon characters because they’re Black. From panels where Black geeks talk about thinking there was no one they could cosplay because they’re Black and plus-size, to wanting to see more Black cosplayers highlighted in geek spaces, the trailer reminds me of the conversations we were having at the start of such movements as #28DaysOfBlackCosplay and well before it became a yearly occurrence in February.
What Ewulu does well is have these soundbites playing over Black cosplayers who are really just out here trying to have a good time. From my own personal experience with cosplay (which is well over a decade, at this point), all we really want to do is be able to dress like Sailor Moon without having to worry about activating ongoing ban hammers on our pages. We want to be able to see ourselves represented whenever a space claims to want more diverse headliners – and not just when it’s a trending topic.
There are still a fair number of people who are surprised to find out that Black cosplayers deal with harassment because “Twilight Sparkle isn’t Black” – even if Twilight Sparkle is a pony. I get it, though. You would think that a bunch of nerds who gather JoAnn Fabric coupons to make outfits based on fictional characters would be focused on that instead of telling someone that a fantasy pony isn’t Black, yet here we are.
The worst part? Black cosplayers come into cosplay already mentally preparing themselves for backlash.
Why Shades of Cosplay is still relevant today
“It’s 2022 and I myself do not cosplay anymore, but at the time of making this film, I was very passionate about it. And noticed how all of my friends of color, specifically my Black friends, would get treated within the community,” says Ewulu, who produced the film. “I remember one time I was cosplaying as Korra, from The Legend of Korra, and someone came up to me at a con and told me that I was a little bit too dark to be Korra. Keep in mind Korra is as brown as can be.”
While it’s true that the documentary was last seen in 2016, comments like the one Ewulu mentions getting are still happening to Black cosplayers. The comment she references is particularly disheartening since Korra is a brown character. Comments like that can, and do, discourage Black geeks from even wanting to try and cosplay, furthermore, there are plenty of Black geeks who assume they can’t cosplay because they don’t have as many characters who fit the way they look.
When I first decided to cosplay I thought I had to find a character who was Black and plus-sized, but there weren’t a whole lot of options and, arguably, there still aren’t. So that part in the trailer hit me because that’s exactly how I felt, and how I’m sure other cosplayers like me feel when the conversation comes up.
“You can cosplay whoever you want,” is the general response, but you can’t help but wonder how true that is when you see some of the reactions folks have to a Black girl playing dress-up.
Throughout my time in the cosplay community there would be a lot of talk about cosplay being for everyone, but beneath that message were (and still are) plenty of detractors that limit who that “everyone” is. There’s also this exhausting assumption that Black folks simply don’t cosplay because when these spaces showcase cosplay, we aren’t always present in their footage unless if we, well, make it ourselves, as is this case with this documentary.
While we have seen an increase of Black cosplayers headlining events, it’s still not near the level of white and non-Black POC, or it’s a lack of variety within the realm of what kind of Black cosplayer spaces will allow. That’s not a knock against the ones who get invited and more of a comment on how we’re still talking about wanting to see more dark-skinned Black cosplayers, plus-sized Black cosplayers, queer Black cosplayers, and others within the community.
And when those groups are invited, we’re talking about how we don’t always want it to be because of “the struggle” or because certain hashtags that call out the problem are trending.
There’s something to be said about a Black cosplay documentary from 2015 still being relevant in 2022. You kinda look at the topics being addressed and hope that they’re a distant memory and not a comment a Black cosplayer got, most likely, yesterday.
(Image courtesy of Cheyenne Ewulu)
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